One of life’s greatest ironies is how often we treat friends, co-workers and even strangers … better than we treat our own family.
You wake up at 5:00am on a dreary winter morning, knowing that you’ve got to meet your gym partner for a session at 5:30am. You get there, and they don’t turn up. You receive a text message over an hour later: “Really sorry, I overslept.” “All good, see you tomorrow”, you respond.
Having divided the work for Monday afternoon’s presentation with your colleague on Friday, you spent some time doing it over the weekend to ensure you got it done. Monday morning your colleague walks over: “My child was sick all weekend, and I didn’t manage to get anything done, can you help me get it done before the presentation today?” “Sorry to hear about your kid, of course I’ll help,” you respond, reassuringly.
On your way home, you stop to collect a takeaway order that was supposed to be ready at 18:00. At 18:30 you’re still sitting there waiting for your food, your family is waiting for your arrival, and your kids’ bedtime is probably going to be delayed as a result of this. “Sorry about the wait,” says the manager… “No worries,” you say… “I can see you guys are insanely busy.”
You eventually get home, you sit down to eat dinner… and your kid stretches across the table and knocks over a jug of water. “How can you be so foolish,” you explode… “Can’t you look before you reach out like that?!”
With all the non-family groups, we’re still keen to be well-regarded and appreciated. We still think it is worth leaving a good impression, and we care a lot about what they think of us.
With our family, the underlying ties and familiarity lead us to take their constancy and devotion for granted.
While it is certainly convenient to be your ‘true self’ with those whom you are closest to, this comfort must be checked constantly… never presume it as your right to drop the consideration and civility which you offer to everyone else, just because of your familiarity with your loved ones.
The problem tree
I don’t know the origin of this story, but I recall hearing it a long time ago, and it felt like an appropriate one to share on this topic. Some of you may recall seeing it shared in my Instagram stories a while ago as well.
A man who who lived a happy life with his wife and kids had a peculiar habit. Each day, as he returned home from work, he would pause briefly at a particular tree in his driveway, touching the tips of the branches with both hands.
After this, he would open the door, and greet his wife with a kiss, hug his kids with a beaming smile, and laugh with them as they shared all the highlights of their day.
His wife’s curiosity eventually got the better of her, and she asked him about why he paused at the tree, and what the purpose of this ritualistic behaviour was.
“That is my problem tree,” he said to her. “I know I can’t help having problems on the job, but one thing is certain… those problems don’t belong in the house with you and the children. I just hang them up on the tree every night when I come home. In the morning, I pick them up again.”
“The best part is,” he smiled, “when I come out in the morning to pick them up, there aren’t nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before.”
We often preserve the best of ourselves for those who mean the least… Surely, it ought to be the other way around?